One solar farm approved, three in limbo

By Rodney Woods

A solar farm has been approved for Congupna by Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne but no decision has been made on other proposals in the Greater Shepparton planning queue.

Mr Wynne also revealed a new set of draft guidelines for solar farms, which are now up for public comment.

According to Mr Wynne, the final draft will determine the future of the three other proposals at Tatura East, Lemnos and Tallygaroopna, all of which are on irrigated land.

Mr Wynne said the guidelines were not law but would help councils make better decisions when it came to large-scale solar applications.

‘‘The lack of guidelines was why Greater Shepparton City Council got me to call these (proposals) in and I know these guidelines will be welcomed by local councils more generally,’’ he said.

The Congupna project, which will be built on non-irrigated land by X-Elio Australia, will produce 68MW of power, enough to power 22600 homes and will create 250 jobs during construction.

Mr Wynne said decisions would be made on the existing three applications before the middle of next year if Labor was successful at next month’s state election.

‘‘I don’t want to pre-empt any future decision-making,’’ he said.

‘‘We will give people the chance to put in their view. There is no decision that governments make that is not better informed by community input.’’

Mr Wynne was criticised by Shadow Planning Minister David Davis, who could not understand why the Congupna project had been approved before the guidelines were finalised.

‘‘The key point here is that he has put the cart before the horse by waving through this solar farm before the guidelines are in position.’’

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed was pleased with the government’s recognition of concerns raised around irrigation land being used for solar developments.

Neoen Australia managing director Franck Woitiez, whose company is behind the Drumanure solar project which is currently under construction, said they were still assessing the new guidelines.

‘‘We are currently in the process of assessing the draft guidelines,’’ he said.

‘‘Neoen is very supportive of initiatives aimed at simplifying and clarifying the development of renewable energy projects, which will not only create more jobs for the local community, but also deliver more sustainable, reliable and competitive electricity to the grid and the people of Victoria.’’

Greater Shepparton City Council welcomed the news of a set of draft guidelines.

■To read the guidelines and/or make a submission, visit:

Submissions close on March 1, 2019.

■The wrong figures for megawattage, jobs created, homes powered and the closing date for submissions for the Congupna solar farm and draft guidelines were published in last week’s Country News. The incorrect figures were supplied by the Victorian Government.

Objectors have say

Objectors to the four solar applications in Greater Shepparton have had their say on new draft guidelines announced last week by Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne.

Mr Wynne announced the guidelines in addition to giving the green light to a solar project at Congupna.

Tatura orchardist Peter Hall said the guidelines were a good start and there was acknowledgment of the issues raised at a recent planning panel which helped to inform the draft.

‘‘But there needs to be more meat on the bones,’’ he said.

Mr Hall said the guidelines needed to more explicitly state and acknowledge how valuable irrigated land was.

Fellow solar farm objector, Tallygaroopna’s Natalie Akers, said while it was good there had been acknowledgement of newly-modernised infrastructure, it was the fate of the three pending applications she was most interested in learning about.

Goulburn Valley Environmental Group president John Pettigrew said it was disappointing to see a decision on the three contentious applications pushed back to next year.

‘‘I think they’ve kicked the can down the road on some more controversial applications and that is disappointing if that’s the case,’’ he said.

—with Tara Whitsed